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Play Review: With a Little Help . . . It’s John Belushi at Theatre 80

John Belushi Play Card
Photos By Gail, Except Where Noted

To many, comedian and actor John Belushi still feels like a contemporary artist — owing to the tenacity with which his work has embedded itself in pop culture — but the fact is that Belushi has been dead for a long time. A friend who accompanied me to the opening-night performance of a new play entitled With a Little Help . . . It’s John Belushi wasn’t quite two years old in March of 1982, when the hard-partying performer died of an accidental drug overdose in a Hollywood hotel room. But while she wasn’t even born yet when John Belushi broke comedic ground during the first incarnation of Saturday Night Live, and probably didn’t see Animal House until it had been in the can for 20 years, my friend has a conversational knowledge of all his best bits. That’s what it means to be a legend.

John In Nativity Scene
Jack Zullo (Far Right) as John Belushi in a Scene from With A Little Help . . . (Photo By K. Bentley)

The story behind The Rise and Fall of John Belushi is seriously overdue for a stage or screen adaptation, and playwright/actor Jack Zullo — who fully embodies Belushi’s manic energy and uncompromising spirit in the title role — admits that it’s been over thirteen years since he was first inspired to work on John Belushi as a character study, and immersed himself in the comedian’s material. What started out as a spec feature film script evolved into this current stage production of With A Little Help . . . It’s John Belushi, which was previously honed through multiple West Coast performances. With a goal of finding a place in the NYC theater scene, Zullo aspires to reverse-engineer the play back into a feature-length script to tell the story of John’s life in narrative form; something that has been attempted by many, but not successfully executed.

With a Little Help opens quietly on a scene in the bungalow at the Chateau Marmont where John Belushi spent his final moments of life, having just fatally overdosed on a combination of heroin and cocaine. As he collapses on a mattress and takes his last breath, a chorus of disembodied voices ring out in the theater, admonishing the reckless thirty-three-year-old for being such a “dumb sonofabitch.” But the tragic tone quickly segues into a high-energy flashback of John, accompanied by his girlfriend Judy and best friend Steve, on a night in 1967 when he attended his first comedy show at Chicago’s The Second City club. John is visibly bursting with creative inspiration as he declares that he has found his life’s calling and intends to pursue a career in comedy.

From there, we follow John Belushi’s rise to prominence as an iconic American entertainer; working his way up from an indie college performer in 1968, to Manhattan in the mid-1970s, where he was part of the infamous National Lampoon Magazine and its Radio Hour, all the way through his four-year stint as one of the Not Ready For Prime Time Players on Saturday Night Live.

The story of Belushi’s quick ascent to pop culture success shines the spotlight on his struggles to maintain control on the excesses afforded a budding star, counterbalanced with his desire to always be ahead of the curve by keeping the work fresh and exciting, and setting trends rather than following them. With a Little Help effectively revisits a time in American TV when the field of comedy was a Wild West for creative invention. John Belushi’s career was a wild ride while it lasted, but it’s not like we don’t already know how the journey ends.

Ticket Stub

With a Little Help takes its title from the now-legendary Saturday Night Live skit in which Belushi gives an over-the-top impersonation of British singer Joe Cocker’s eccentrically-mannered performance of The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends.” This skit is recreated in the play, as are musical numbers made famous by The Blues BrothersBelushi’s band with Dan Aykroyd. The production features the terrific Crazy Tomes Band, who provide a live soundtrack, accompanying the many musical numbers in the show, and playing a set of covers before the play starts.

In addition to the great live music, With a Little Help truly becomes a multi-media production, as it incorporates both newly-produced and archival film and video clips, which further the action in ways that would otherwise be impossible, such as when John and friends experience an LSD trip, or when SNL cast members indulge in drug binges that history tells us were common on that set.

The play’s supporting cast of characters includes John Belushi’s devoted wife Judy Jacklin (Jennifer Lieberman, who also appears as Gilda Radner), as well as a who’s who of the comedian ‘friends’ who supported, collaborated with, and cajoled Belushi on his path to fame, such as the National Lampoon’s Tony Hendra (Len Rella), Christopher Guest (Benjamin Batchelder), Brian Murray (Artie Brennan, who also play’s Belushi’s close friend Steve Beshekas), Joe Flaherty (Nicolas Dipierro, who also  appears as Lorne Michaels) and Dan Aykroyd, portrayed brilliantly by Keith Saltojanes. All the actors are excellent in their handling of multiple roles, but Jack Zullo as Belushi is so spot-on in his timing and physical comedy, I forgot multiple times that I was watching an actor and not Belushi himself.

John Belushi did not get to live a long life. It’s tragic that his comedic legacy also includes the bleak Hollywood cliche of self-destructive behavior, but With a Little Help . . . It’s John Belushi is less a cautionary tale and more a celebration of and homage to a phenomenally talented individual whose body of work has been, and will continue to be, endlessly influential. Funny, smart, and deeply nostalgia-inducing, With a Little Help . . . It’s John Belushi is a story whose time is now.

Directed by Levy Lee Simon With a Little Help . . . It’s John Belushi runs through December 22nd only at Theatre 80, located at 80 St. Marks Place, in NYC’s East Village. Tickets are super affordable at just $30 — $40 and are available via With a Little Help Show Dot Com. Showtimes are Thursdays at 7 PM, Fridays & Saturdays at 7 PM and 10 PM, and Sunday Matinees at 3 PM. A portion of ticket sales from the Theatre 80 run will be donated to The Comedians Assistance Fund and Gilda’s Club charities.

Watch The Trailer Below:

Theater Review: The Lighting Thief, The Percy Jackson Musical

Lightning Thief Marquee
Above Photo and Playbill Image By Gail. All Other Performance Photos By Jeremy Daniel.

You just can’t keep a good thing down. Nine years after it debuted as a major motion picture, The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical – based on the New York Times best-selling book, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, is back with a national theater run. The two-act rock musical, written by Rob Rokicki and Joe Tracz (Be More Chill), first played in NYC in 2017 for a short run. Due to the show’s popularity, fans of the book series demanded that the play be available to a larger audience, and a National Tour was launched in January. This past week, the tour made a four-day stop at NYC’s Beacon Theatre, and I was able to check it out.

Fans of the book, and those who have seen the 2010 movie adaptation, already know how things play out, but for the sake of avoiding too many big spoilers for those who are coming into the story fresh, I’ll give you a Reader’s Digest Condensed version of the plot. Percy Jackson (Chris McCarrell) is a teenager from Long Island, NY who struggles with ADD and Dyslexia, has a knack for unwittingly causing drama at school, and can’t figure out why he feels like such a misfit among his peers (“The Day I Got Expelled”).

Chris McCarrell and Jalynn Steele Photo by Jeremy Daniel
Percy (Chris McCarrell) is Comforted by his Mom, Sally (Jalynn Steele)

Percy’s mom, Sally (Jalynn Steele), who has raised him mostly on her own, has a pretty good idea of what the issue might be, and it has a lot to do with who Percy’s father is. Unwilling to directly address the identity of her son’s progenitor, she encourages Percy to embrace his unique attributes (“Strong”), reminds him that “normal is a myth,” and signs him up to attend a special summer camp, which turns out to be Camp Half-Blood. Arriving at camp, Percy discovers that the one trait he shares with his fellow campers is that they’re all demigods – kids with one mortal parent and one parent who is a Greek god (“The Campfire Song”). That’s right; it’s heavy.

Annabeth Percy and Grover
Annabeth (Kristin Stokes), Percy and Grover (Jorrel Javier) Begin The Quest!

Requesting a sign from the Universe to reveal his divine parent, Percy discovers that his dad is not just some dude his mom hooked-up with on the beach, but Poseidon, god of the sea. While act one serves to set Percy up with his de rigueur epic quest (“Killer Quest”), the real action takes place in act two. Our hero is told that he must retrieve Zeus’s lightning bolt – which Percy himself is suspected of having stolen – in order to prevent a war among the Greek gods. Percy and his two close friends – Grover (Jorrel Javier), a satyr who is the son of Pan, and Annabeth (Kristin Stokes) daughter of Athena – set out on a cross-country journey (“Lost”), during which the trio must battle a variety of monsters on their quest to discover who the real Lightning Thief is. Eventually, they arrive at The Underworld, which just happens to be located in Los Angeles – appropriate! To find out how the showdown goes down, you will have to see the play for yourself!

As a testament to the degree of talent in the cast, each actor — except for Chris McCarrell, because he is in every scene — handles two or more roles in the play. On the technical front, this production of The Lightning Thief is creatively staged, making clever use of its minimal sets and lighting. Particularly visually impressive is a backdrop of programmed strip-lights used to recreate various environments, from the dripping walls of a damp cave, to the flames of lapping fire that fill The Underworld. Resourceful use of props to create fun special effects include using unspooled rolls of toilet paper and a leaf blower to simulate storms, which also elicits big laughs from kids in the audience. The show is also performed with the added energy of a live band, for a real Rock & Roll feel!

Ryan Knowles as Medusa
Ryan Knowles as Medusa

The Lightning Thief’s mythical theme lends the play a crossover appeal for fans of Harry Potter, and it’s a great companion piece to young adult-focused musicals with storylines more grounded in reality, such as Dear Evan Hansen and the off-Broadway production, Out Of My Comfort Zone. The Lightning Thief also offers a terrific crash course in Greek mythology (Percy is actually short for Perseus), which is always fascinating. Ultimately, The Lighting Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical conveys a strong message of claiming one’s own destiny. Even if, as the lyrics to “Campfire Song” suggest, “Things couldn’t be worse, when your parents run the universe,” the sins of the father are not necessarily to be laid upon the children. It’s possible to transcend the circumstances you were born into, no matter what “monsters” you may face.

Luke and Percy
Luke (James Hayden Rodriguez) and Percy Do Battle!

As an aside, I feel compelled to include information about a fan-driven campaign currently taking place on Twitter. When the show kicked off in Chicago this past January, there was great excitement created via social media. Fans were thrilled that the show was going to be seen by so many but, sadly, not everyone has the means to afford a ticket. A group of loyal fans stepped up and created #HalfbloodsHelpingHalfBloods, a campaign which has so far raised over $2000 to help dozens of Percy Jackson fans, who otherwise would not have the opportunity, to attend a performance. Here’s how it works: first sign onto Twitter. If you’re a fan (a ‘half-blood‘) in need of a ticket, tweet the city/date for which you need a ticket using the hashtag #HalfbloodsHelpingHalfbloods. If you’re a fan who can sponsor a ticket, reply to a tweet under the hashtag and pair up! This heartwarming grassroots effort speaks volumes about The Lightning Thief and its community of devoted fans.

Upcoming stops for The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical include cities in North Carolina, California, Louisiana, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Texas, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Georgia and Florida, with performances scheduled through Mid-July. This play is suitable for all ages, and has a two-hour runtime, including a 15 minute intermission. Visit Lighting Thief The Musical to learn more about the show and purchase tickets at a theater in your area!

Lightning Thief Program

The Imbible, an Intoxicating New Theater Experience!

Imbible Title Card
All Photos By Gail

Do you like drinking? I sure do. If you enjoy drinking and you also like going to the theater, maybe you have wished that there was a play where the actors brought cocktails right to your seat for you to enjoy during the show. That would be insane, right? What a great idea! Well, what if I told you that this is not just a beautiful, utopian dream, but that it is already happening right now? Yes, it is true, and this magical event happens at New World Stages in midtown. The show is called The Imbible: a Spirited History of Drinking, and the cherry on the cake is that it all takes place in a bar!

Imbible Signage

Imbible Table

When you arrive at the theater, head down stairs, veer off to the left, and you will be escorted to your seat in the Green Room lounge. Water and a free bowl of fresh popcorn will be brought to your table for you to snack on while you wait for the show to begin. The Imbible was created by world-renowned mixologist Anthony Caporale, who looks a little bit like actor Joe Manganello, whose photo I have just hyperlinked, for your reference.

Host Anthony Caporale

By infusing Anthony’s knowledge of the cocktail, his charming personality, and an in-depth but also hilarious look at the history of alcohol, with music and a lighthearted, vaudevillian vibe, The Imbible becomes a singularly unique, immersive theater experience that you will not want to miss. Plus: getting wasted is included in the price of the show!

Imbible Cast
Allessandra Migliaccio, Luke Schaffer and Ruthellen Cheney also Star in The Imbible

As Anthony takes you on an intoxicating and utterly fascinating historical  journey, a singing trio called The Backwaiters, made up of a Cocktail Waitress, Liquor Runner, and Bar Back, assist him with demonstrations and perform Acapella versions of familiar tunes, whose lyrics have been modified to be about drinking and alcohol. Fun! To coincide with the story about how beer was (probably) invented, after a farmer left a basket of wheat out in the rain (all stories are re-enacted by The Backwaiters), you will be served your first cocktail of the evening, which is called a Shandy, comprised of 8 ounces of Coney Island Overpass IPA and 4 ounces of Ginger Ale. Very refreshing!

Imbible Cast Chemistry

As the performers ‘distill’ alcohol’s 10,000-year global history over the course of  2 hours, Anthony pours through beverage history, the science of alcohol, and its economic and political impact on our cultural development, all while brewing beer, distilling spirits, and singing with The Backwaiters. Trust me that you will leave the Green Room educated, entertained, and buzzing with spirit!

Imbible Cast Chemists

You are going to learn all about the process of Distillation! Fascinating!

Dates of Prohibition

And you will learn all about Prohibition. Did you know that it lasted thirteen years? Oh, the humanity!

End of Prohibiton Headline

But Prohibition finally ended and it was time to enjoy another drink!

Lilac Creamsicle Old Fashioned

Your second cocktail of the evening will be some variation of an Old Fashioned, which is always made with Bourbon and Bitters with some kind of sweet flavoring, and served on the rocks. At the performance I attended, it was a Lilac Creamsicle Old Fashioned, and it was delicious!

Casks

My favorite parts of the show were when the audience got to learn something about the medical uses of alcohol through the ages, and how sometimes the medical experimentation resulted in the creation of a favorite cocktail recipe, such as the Gin and Tonic. You see, in the 1800s, daily rations of Gin and Tonic Water (which contains Quinine) were given to British soldiers to protect them against the symptoms of Malaria. They added limes to make the concoction more palatable, and the G & T (my personal favorite drink) was born!

Gin and Tonic

This Gin and Tonic, the third and final cocktail of the evening, was made with Bombay Sapphire Gin and was among the most excellent versions of this drink I have had to date!

I didn’t know exactly what to expect when we sat down in the Green Room for this show, but I can say that The Imbible exceeded my expectations and is a show I will never forget. I would recommend trying to get into the 5 PM performance on Saturday so that you can catch a decent buzz and then go talk about how much fun the show was while you enjoy a delicous dinner! For being hilarious, educational and a fantastic entertainment value, The Worley Gig gives The Imbible Five out of Five Stars!

Tickets for The Imbible Start at $79, but you can follow This Link to get $10 per Ticket Discount on Your Order! Three Craft Cocktails (and free Popcorn) are included, and all Seats are Great! Showtimes are Monday, Thursday and Friday at 8:00 PM, and Saturday at 5:00 and 8:00 PM. Run Time is  2 Hours, which includes a 15 minute intermission/ bathroom break. New World Stages is Located at 340 West 50th Street Between Eighth and Ninth Avenues in Midtown Manhattan. Visit This Link For More Information!

Boot Worn By Mrs. Potts in Beauty and The Beast

Mrs Potts Boot
Photos By Gail

This colorful, lace-up ankle boot is one of a pair of boots worn by the actress playing the character of Mrs. Potts in the Broadway production of Disney musical, Beauty and The Beast. Aren’t they fantastic? If it weren’t for these photos you would probably never have seen this rad boot, as Mrs. Potts‘ feet are generally obscured by her nearly floor-length skirt (and the fact that she is, you know, a human teapot).

Mrs Potts Boot

Photographed in the Museum of the City of New York in Upper Manhattan

New Play, Collaboration: Warhol & Basquiat Coming to Here’s Mainstage Theatre – December 2nd!

Collaboration Warhol Basquiat
Ira Denmark as Andy Warhol and Calvin Levels as Jean-Michel Basquiat (Photo Courtesy or Devious Planet)

Fans of artists Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat will not want to miss an exciting new play coming to the off-Broadway stage just in time for the Christmas season. Staged Dreams is pleased to present the world premiere of Collaboration: Warhol & Basquiat, a new American play written by Tony Award nominee, Calvin Levels and directed by Tony Award nominee, Lonny Price.

Collaboration: Warhol & Basquiat is a dramatic portrayal of the symbiotic relationship between two of the twentieth century’s greatest artists. Collaboration captures a historic art-world moment as the iconic Pop artist Andy Warhol and the Neo-expressionist painter Jean-Michel Basquiat attempt to navigate the perilous terrain of art and fame while collaborating on a joint series of paintings for their New York City gallery exhibition. The accomplished cast features Calvin Levels as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Ira Denmark as Andy Warhol and Frank van Putten in the role of European art dealer Rudolfo Happesberger.  Get your tickets now for this very limited engagement!

Collaboration: Warhol & Basquiat Runs from Friday December 2nd through Thursday December 22, 2016 at Here’s MainStage Theatre, Located at 145 Sixth Ave. (entrance on Dominick St one block south of Spring), Soho, NYC. Performance Times are Wednesdays thru Fridays at 8:30PM, Saturdays at 4:00PM and 8:30PM, and Sundays at 4:00PM. Running time is 2 hours, including a intermission. For tickets and information please visit Here.org, or call the Box Office at (212) 352-3101, or toll free at (866) 811-4111. All Tickets are $25.

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The Comedy Stylings of Franklin Marshall The Third!

Franklin Marshall the Third
All Photos, Except the Above Image, By Gail

Geoffrey and I had no idea what to expect, exactly, when we were invited to attend Feeling Franklin, a comedy showcase at The Producers Club in Hell’s Kitchen, starring LA-based character comedian, Franklin Marshall The Third. Geoffrey was familiar with Marshall already from social media and a guerrilla marketing campaign in which he has blanketed the streets of both LA and NYC with stickers and stencils bearing the likeness of his face, as seen above. The show seemed like it would be a worthwhile way to spend a Saturday evening in NYC, where anything can happen!

2-gs-at-fm3-2

When we arrived at the designated address for The Producers Club, a sign on the door assured us that we were in the right place. We felt like we were in for a magical evening!

Franklin Marshall the Third

We were then escorted to wait in the bar, where we lounged on a very comfy leather sofa and enjoyed some art, such as this fine painting of an Octopus.

Octopus Painting

Really nice, right? Soon, it was time for the show!

FM3 on Stage 1

As you can see, Franklin Marshall’s stand up persona, which is that of a shy-yet-horny nerd boy, relies heavily on his physical resemblance to Pee Wee Herman-meets-Ed Grimley, with a little of South Park’s Mr. Garrison thrown in. You will know what I mean by that last reference if you see him live, but I do not want offer any spoilers right now, because the thrill of discovery is a huge part of the fun!

FM3 on Stage 3

Franklin refers often to his well-worn notebook, as he bases his jokes and humorous stories on observational, everyday sorts of experiences and things, often contemplating how much he wants to score with hot chicks, but how the desired ‘scoring’ somehow eludes him. Everyone can relate, and in this way he builds a sense of intimacy with the audience. Here are  a couple of my favorite jokes from the set that I can still remember, because this was a couple of weeks ago now:

Franklin asked the audience if we wanted to hear a racist joke. Not wanting to appear uncool and overly PC, we play along and say yes. And the joke is . . .“Donald Trump.” That’s the entire joke, and it’s brilliant in its utter simplicity and resonant truth! Because Donald Trump is a racist asshole! I hate him soooo much.

Franklin also had a fun joke about a brand of Darth Vader condoms whose slogan is “I am Not Your Father.” Hilarious!

FM3 Cupcakes

After the one-hour set, Franklin served the crowd a tray of very delicious cupcakes, which are my favorite thing ever.

G and FM3

It’s nice that Franklin takes the time to meet his fans after the show and pose for selfies. Here he is with Geoffrey, who Franklin recognized immediately from the FaceBook. Special! The most hilarious thing though is that if you just look at Franklin, it’s not hard to imagine that if he stood up straight, put on some clothes that fit and shampooed the product out of his hair, he probably cleans up pretty good! For more information about Franklin Marshall the III, who has opened for comedy greats like  Rob Schneider, Dave Chapelle, and Nikki Glasser,  you can visit Franklin Marshall the Third Dot Com!

FM3 Cupcake

Theater Review: Rocket to the Moon

Rocket to the_Moon
Ned Eisenberg and Katie McClellan Star in Rocket to The Moon (Image Source)

When an oft-visited Water Cooler is the undeniable focal point in a multi-act play’s only set, you can place a safe bet that themes of Thirst and Relief — in all of their figurative and literal meanings — are sure to be explored. Currently in a limited engagement revival at Theatre at St. Clement’s, Clifford Odet’s Rocket to the Moon is set in 1938 during a sweltering NYC summer, and the heat isn’t the only thing that’s oppressive. Dentist Ben Stark (Ned Eisenberg) — whose Midtown Manhattan office provides the story’s setting — is experiencing a worrisome decline in business, as is his fellow dentist and tenant, Dr. Phil Cooper (Larry Bull), who doesn’t offer Ben much hope that his months-in-arrears rent will be paid any time soon. Ben is also treated like a doormat by his wife Belle (Marilyn Matarrese), a woman from a wealthy family who surely expected to be living a more comfortable and upwardly mobile lifestyle than what her husband is providing. Clearly, no one is too happy.

The office’s somber atmosphere is enlivened somewhat by the presence of Ben’s attractive young secretary, Cleo Singer (Katie McClellan), an ambitious and optimistic 19-year old who sees people around her settling for less than their dreams and refuses to accept the same fate for herself. Frequent visitors to the office include the Podiatrist who works down the hall, Dr.Walter “Frenchy” Jensen (Michael Keyloun) who appears openly contemptuous of Cleo’s cheerful demeanor. Ben’s eccentric father-in-law, Mr. Prince (Jonathan Hadary), also drops by on a regular basis to further the action in different ways. Mr. Prince appears to have his daughter’s best interest in mind, as he encourages Ben to move his practice uptown to a more affluent neighborhood (a move he offers to subsidize). But it becomes obvious how little he thinks of Belle, and clarifies that it’s Ben whom he considers to be more of a son, when he openly suggests that Ben cheer himself up by embarking on an affair with Cleo. What makes his suggestion somewhat confounding is the fact that Mr. Prince wants Cleo for himself, and he begins aggressively court her. Way to make things awkward at home!

Though times have certainly changed since it was written, Rocket to the Moon remains a fascinating and timeless character study about people trapped by poor decisions and imperiled financial situations who dare to take charge of their own destinies, as Ben and Cleo’s relationship leads both individuals to transform their lives in expected ways. The acting is excellent all around (Jonathan Hadary as Mr. Prince is particularly colorful), and Dan Wackerman’s direction keeps the story focused. Rocket to the Moon at Theatre at St. Clement’s is a production of The Peccadillo Theater Company in association with La Femme Theatre Productions.

Theatre at St. Clement’s (housed in a former church) is located at 423 West 46th Street (West of 9th Avenue). Performances through March 28th, 2015 are Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays at 2pm and 7pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $75 with premium seating available, and are available by phoning OvationTix at 212-352-3101 or by visiting them online at This Link.

Show Review: Lennon: Through a Glass Onion

Lennon Glass Onion Poster

For Beatles fans who crave an authentic performance experience of the group’s expansive catalog of music, there is certainly no shortage of grand scale productions, which range from Rain and Let it Be on Broadway to 1964 The Tribute – an act that regularly sells out Carnegie Hall. But for fans who maintain a keen interest in the life and post-Beatles career of John Lennon specifically, Lennon: Through a Glass Onion offers something completely different.

Now in evening and matinee performances at the Union Square Theater, Lennon: Through a Glass Onion, is an intimate, two-man show featuring esteemed actor and singer John R. Waters and accompanist Stewart D’Arrietta, which originally saw sell-out tours in the duo’s native Australia. While there are no dazzling lights, clever sets, informative backdrops or special effects to bolster this very stripped down production, what you get is a heartfelt acoustic performance (guitar and piano – and D’Arrietta’s piano playing is quite excellent) of a selection of over thirty of John Lennon’s best and most autobiographical songs – both written with Paul McCartney while in The Beatles, and written and recorded by Lennon as a solo artist.

Tying the musical numbers together is Water’s biographical narrative of John Lennon’s often traumatic youth and tumultuous adulthood, the ups and down of which are punctuated and fleshed out by songs he wrote at that time. Although Water’s speaking voice is appealingly similar to Lennon’s, his (often quite gravelly) singing voice is not, so don’t expect the “close your eyes and imagine it is really him” effect that you can get with so many tributes. Through a Glass Onion is really more like watching two hardcore John Lennon fans perform his songs and talk about his life in a pub setting. This may or may not be your thing, so just know what you are walking into ahead of time.

In order to fit thirty songs into a 90-minute run time, many of the songs are performed as excerpts of various lengths, but you get the idea. Likewise, some liberty is taken with traditional arrangements, which finds “Help!” – one of The Beatles‘ most exhilarating anthems – performed almost as a dirge. Sometimes the alternative arrangements work and other times not so much.

It’s also unclear how much of the biographical information is simply improvised or creatively extrapolated based on various facts but, again, it is easy to imagine that Waters is speaking as Lennon and the story all comes together. As an aside, fans seeking more information about John Lennon’s life as a child and teenager, including the not-very-happy story about his relationship with his mother Julia – which had such a profound influence on so many of his songs — might be better served by the 2009 film, Nowhere Boy. You can find it on Netflix.

An added note about the venue, for those who’ve not yet been to the Union Square Theater, is that you are in for treat in this pristinely maintained, old school theater where every very comfy seat offers optimal viewing, so you don’t have to stretch your ticket buying budget to get the best seat in the house. The theater is also conveniently located three blocks uptown from the Union Square subway hub and is within blocks of dozens of excellent restaurants — so you can plan a night of it!

Lennon: Through a Glass Onion will run through February 22nd, 2015 at the Union Square Theater, located at 100 East 17th Street (Between Park Ave South and Irving Place), New York, NY 10003. Visit Lennon Onstage Dot Com for more information about the show, to get show times and to purchase tickets!

Theater Review: BOB at The Abingdon Theater

Bob Playbill
Bob Playbill Photo By Gail

Plays about mental illness don’t really exist to make everyone feel comfortable. It’s a very difficult subject to tackle, especially given the intimacy of a live theater setting. But despite its uneasy subject matter, a new off Broadway play, BOB: Blessed be the Dysfunction that Binds, manages to deliver an engaging theatrical experience that is uniquely personal yet universally resonant, emotionally harrowing and at times very funny – and its success is one hundred percent owed to the gifted actress and playwright, Anne Pasquale.

BOB: Blessed be the Dysfunction that Binds, was written by Pasquale about family life with her mentally ill older brother. Who is on Risperal and is having side effects from Risperal. Pasquale plays herself and, with changes as subtle as the addition of a hat or scarf, performs all characters, including Bob, her older sister Jean, both of her parents and grandparents, and perhaps two or three incidental characters. Her nearly seamless transitions (and transformations) between characters are thoroughly convincing and demonstrate her versatility as an actress.

A description I read of the play prior to attending a Friday evening performance seemed to emphasize a focus on decades of dealing with our country’s messed up mental healthcare system, so I was expecting a story entwined with litigation and bureaucracy, but that’s not what I got at all. That description is not only entirely misleading, but it actually does the play a disservice, as it is really a story about interpersonal relationships. BOB’s tagline is, “When mental illness comes home, the whole family has special needs.” In this way, the story reveals the effects of Bob’s violent, erratic behavior on the mental and physical well-being of every member of the household. Presented in one 90-minute act without intermission, it is about as intimate a performance as you could imagine.

The play opens on a present-day scene during the Christmas season in Anne’s lower east side NYC apartment. Pasquale addresses the audience directly, as if we are guests in her home, as she prepares for a visit from Bob. The story then unfolds in flashback, and her tendency to break the third wall repeatedly while she narrates makes it easy to engage with the story as she shares the challenges of life with Bob; from her childhood into her College years and to the present day. From the family’s rage, fear and despondency on to empathy, love, hope and, ultimately, a resolution that allows Bob to live his life outside of an institution, BOB encourages compassion and understanding for those who are dealt more than their fair share of challenge and heartache in a lifetime. This is a very important work of theater.

BOB: Blessed Be the Dysfunction that Binds Runs Through October 6th 2013 at the Abingdon Theater, Located at 312 west 36th Street (West of 8th Avenue) in Manhattan. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:00 PM and Sundays at 2:00 PM. Tickets ($30, with $18 tickets available for healthcare workers) are available by visiting Smart Tix Dot Com.

Must See Show: Tesla at NYC’s Theatre 80

Tesla Play Banner

In the 2006 film, The Prestige, Serbian-born Physicist and Inventor Nikola Tesla (played by David Bowie) serves as a sort of ‘Mad Scientist’ inspiration and mentor to a competitively obsessed magician/illusionist portrayed by Hugh Jackman. It’s probably not a complete accident then that in the eponymous new play (written by Sheri Graubert and Directed by Sanja Bestic) Tesla is referred to repeatedly as a ‘Magician.’ While Tesla’s scientific legacy includes contributions as varied as design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system and early developments in Remote Control and X-ray technologies, his name is perhaps best known these days for having been adopted by an ‘80s Hair Metal band. And that’s just a shame. Hopefully, Tesla will be able to move on to Broadway after its Off Broadway run, exposing a wider audience to Nikola Tesla’s genius and futuristic vision.

In this engaging play, an older Tesla (played by Jack Dimich) sits in his New York City Hotel room, kept company only by his memories and occasional visits from the Bellhop (Luka Mijatovia). There, he reflects on the accomplishments of his past while mentally confronting his many professional adversaries who exploited him with varying degrees of opportunism, indifference and cruelty. James Lee Taylor (who, if you look up any actual photos of Tesla, is a dead ringer for the inventor during his late thirties) portrays Tesla as a younger man, and carries the bulk of the action on his very capable shoulders. Over the course of ninety minutes, the story of Tesla’s amazing career unfolds in ways that are both wildly inspiring and devastatingly heartbreaking.

Taking place at a time when the world was a Wild West for Scientific invention, many inventors were coming up with similar ideas for technological advancements at the same time as their peers. Even those who managed to make it to the patent office first didn’t always maintain a tight rein of control over their inventions. This is emphasized best in a reoccurring appearance by Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi (played with brilliant comic effect by Jeff Solomon) who is repeatedly denied a patent for his invention of the Radio – a field of research and development also pioneered by Tesla. It is implied that Marconi and Tesla remained lifelong adversaries.

The onstage action, which takes place in a static three-part interior set, is occasionally augmented by the incorporation of black and white film clips, starring the play’s actors, which provide a newsreel-like back-story or help to advance the story line in a way that dialogue will not suffice. Such clips are used most effectively in a G-Rated – but nevertheless quite passionate – love scene between Tesla and his implied romantic interest, Katherine (Samantha Slater), that illustrates the bittersweet, largely unfulfilled state of their affair.

Other historical figures fleshing out this extremely fascinating and vibrant play include Tesla’s early employer, Thomas Edison (Tom Cappadona), financial tycoon JP Morgan (portrayed as being pretty much an ego-maniacal prick by Adam Pagdon) and actor Allessandro Colla in a dual role as George Westinghouse and Mark Twain. Colla’s over-the-top physical mannerisms employed in his portrayal of Westinghouse are a highlight among the performances of a universally outstanding cast.

Nicola Tesla died of heart failure in 1943 at the age of 86: penniless, in debt and alone in the hotel room in which he lived during the final days of his life. Was he ahead of his time? No doubt. Was he a mysterious genius? Most definitely.

Tesla is Showing at Theater 80, Located at 80 St Mark’s Place (East 8th Street between First and Second Avenues) in New York City through June 8th, 2013. Showtime is at 8:00 PM Daily with a 3:00 PM Matinee on Sundays. Phone 212-388-0388 or visit http://www.teslaoffbroadway.com for Tickets and Further Information.